Historical Records of New Zealand
Mr. John Busby To Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane
Mr. John Busby To Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane.
When, in reply to my application to Your Excellency for remuneration for the time I was employed at New Zealand beyond the period for which my services for the year were engaged to H.M. Government, I was verbally informed by Major Ovens that Your Excellency’s instructions would not allow you to deviate from the letter of the despatch respecting me, I was of course bound to acquiesce for the time in Your Excellency’s view of the subject.
As, however, from my written communication with H.M. Government previous to my leaving England, copies of which I did myself the honour to lay before Your Excellency, I conceived I had an undoubted right to be remunerated, not only in the moderate measure in which with a view to the subsequent matter of this letter I proposed to Your Excellency, but to make a charge proportionate to the danger and difficulty of my undertaking and the merit of my success, and I accordingly expressed a hope that when I came to submit the matter to my Lord Bathurst I might be favoured with Your Excellency’s testimonial to my zeal and industry in the discharge of my duties.
In my communications, however, with Your Excellency on this subject I have hitherto, in delicacy, avoided the mention of any reward independent of my pay in the shape of an acknowledgement of the merit of the undertaking I accomplished, because such coming spontaneously from Your Excellency would page 651 have been more gratifying to my feelings, and because I calculated with confidence that when Your Excellency came to consider the matter the mention of such by me would have been unnecessary.
Aware of the many important matters which have of late pressed upon Your Excellency’s attention, I have continued to defer the matter, most unwilling to conclude that it had altogether escaped your remembrance; and from a persuasion that to come to a favourable determination it would only be necessary for you to give it a fair hearing, I have again come to the determination of intreating your attention to it. And as in my letter to Your Excellency, proposing to endeavour to save the vessel, I stated experience in such matters as one of the reasons inducing me thereto, I shall illustrate the subject by a reference to a case in which I was once engaged.
In the year 1808, the smack Earl of Dalkeith, a Leith and Hull trader, was cast away on the coast of Northumberland with a valuable cargo on board. The vessel was sunk in twenty feet of water, and her decks had been lifted off by the surge, the bottom only being retained by the weight of the cargo resting upon it. A committee of engineers appointed by the consignees of the goods have examined the situation in which she lay, and pronounced as hopeless any attempt to save any part of the cargo. About two months afterwards I happened to be on a visit to some of my friends in that neighbourhood, and having been attracted by curiosity to visit the place where the vessel lay, it occurred to me that I could apply means which would be successful in saving a part of her cargo. I immediately proposed to the underwriters and consignees that, with their permission, I would endeavour to save a part of the cargo, that I should be at every expense, and that I should give over to the respective proprietors one fourth of the goods saved. Having obtained full authority from all parties interested, I proceeded with the undertaking, which occupied me a whole summer. But after deducting an immense expense for machinery applied before I succeeded in adopting what was at length successful, I saved property which cleared me about £1,000 stg., the underwriters and many of those whose goods were not insured having handsomely declined to receive their share of the proceeds. With this case of a parallel nature, which I have documents in my possession to prove, I would beg of Your Excellency to look at the facts of the case on which I have now the honour to address you.
H.M. colonial brig Elizabeth Henrietta was driven on shore at New Zealand. H.M.S. Tees was sent to her relief, but returned unsuccessful: Captain Coe’s letter to Your Excellency, page 652 stating “that their whole strength was insufficient to move her,“ and “that they were under the necessity of leaving her, having carried away every purchase they had.“ H.M. colonial cutter Mermaid was about to sail to bring home her stores and the flax she had on board when I accidentally heard of the circumstance. I inquired into the situation in which the vessel was left, and I instantly determined to volunteer my services to save her.
I was not deterred by the consideration that since I had been similarly engaged sixteen years had wasted my energies, and begun to bring on the infirmities of old age. I was not deterred by the consideration of the ridicule which might attach to me if unsuccessful, or of the reflection success might throw upon those who had previously failed. My professional character would, I thought, save them from any. I was not deterred by the consideration of the dangers and hardships of a sojourn on a stormy coast and among a race of cannibals. I was not withheld by all these considerations. I looked only to the possibility of saving the vessel, and resolved to make the attempt.
My letter to Your Excellency on my arrival does injustice to myself in stating only a part of my services; and it makes no allusion to my privations and dangers. These I thought would reach Your Excellency through other channels. It is but justice to myself now to state that by saving the vessel I saved also a cargo of New Zealand flax, as both vessels returned with cargoes. To look on the other hand at the expense by which all this was accomplished, Captain Coe recommended that I should not take less than fifty men, as that number would be required. I was aware that if my means were applicable a much smaller number would suffice. In addition to the Mermaid’s crew of sixteen, I required only a carpenter and a blacksmith. On the arrival of the Mermaid where the Elizabeth Henrietta lay, I determined on not even detaining her. I took six individuals, and said to Mr. Kent, You are at liberty to go and collect your cargo of flax; these men will serve my purpose. We were left with ten weeks’ provisions. In 26 days we got the vessel afloat. The Mermaid did not return till upwards of fourteen weeks had elapsed, and we were reduced to lengthen out our scanty provisions with the addition of shellfish and fern-root. The cordage and stores expended could not exceed £10 in value.
I now solicited Mr. Kent to despatch the Elizabeth Henrietta with her cargo, and follow himself when the cutter should have obtained hers. He was, however, anxious to bring both vessels home with him, and we were detained by adverse winds upon page 653 the coast, at one time out of sight of land with only one day’s provisions on board, till eight months after I had left my family, who never during all that time heard of me, and who were now in extreme distress.
Mr. Kent, who commanded the vessel when she went on shore, on his arrival, in addition to his pay and I believe other allowances, had 940 dollars paid him, being one fourth of the value of the flax, for his merit in collecting it; and a great part of which could not have been purchased but for the hatchets made by the blacksmith I took with me. Even his inferior officers have been indebted to Your Excellency’s bounty. It must surely have been from the pressure of other business abstracting Your Excellency’s attention from this that you have never yet signified to me your approbation of my having saved the property of the Crown.
Mr. Kent is a young man, and without connexions here to suffer on his account. It is otherwise with me; and, though the vigour of my constitution has enabled me without much injury to overcome the privations I have suffered, my wife’s health in my absence received a shock for which no remuneration can compensate.
In thus stating these circumstances to Your Excellency, and again intreating your consideration for them, I hope you will believe that I am influenced by an extreme unwillingness to refer the determination of them to any other than yourself.
I have, &c.,
P.S.—If after a consideration of the circumstances stated in the accompanying letter Your Excellency should recognise my claim on H.M. Government, I hope you will receive with favour a proposal, which will essentially benefit me, and instead of expense be attended with advantage to Government. From my report on the Newcastle Coal Works, Your Excellency will perceive that the expense of conducting that establishment is greater than the return it yields. In that report I pointed out improvements which would have gone far to have rendered the Coal Works profitable to Government, but verbally suggested to Your Excellency the expediency of letting them, as I conceived that it would be difficult for Government to manage them on the same economical terms as a private individual. The manner in which the working of the coal has since been continued, as shewn by their quality, is a proof that even with such minute directions as I then gave, a system of gross mismanagement has prevailed, and which will render a steam engine much earlier necessary than under a different system would. page 654 have been required. And it will readily occur to Your Excellency that the addition of a steam engine, besides the increase of expense would only open the door to further mismanagement. At the time I reported to Your Excellency on the Coal Works. I had no intention of proposing to take them myself. But within these few weeks my oldest son has arrived from England, and as my knowledge of mining would allow me to work the coals with profit under circumstances which would perhaps be unprofitable to any other individual in the colony, it occurred to me, that with his assistance I could manage them without interfering with the remaining time of my engagement to Government, or being prevented from affording my advice and assistance when it should be required, after the period of my engagement had expired. Without entering into particulars, which it would require a minute examination into the past management and present circumstances of the Coal Works to furnish, I would propose to take them on the following principle, viz.: I would furnish to Government the coals required by them at a price which, besides the improvement in their quality, would be an absolute saving on what they have hitherto cost, or would cost, were the management of them still continued in the hands of Government. But as in any circumstances a steam engine will very shortly be required, it will be necessary for the Government to advance the capital for its purchase, and for the sinking of the engine pit, and receive the repayment in coals gradually and at a distant period.